Hajj pilgrim arrested by Saudi Arabia returns to Iran

Release of Khalil Dardmand some three months after his arrest comes after mediation efforts by Oman and Iraq.

The flags of Iran and Saudi Arabia
Iran and Saudi Arabia have held five rounds of direct talks since April 2021 [File: Joe Klamar and Ozan Kose/AFP]

Tehran, Iran – An Iranian national who was arrested some three months ago by Saudi Arabian authorities during the Hajj pilgrimage has returned to Iran.

Local media confirmed on Wednesday the arrival of Khalil Dardmand on Monday via “the airway of a Persian Gulf neighbouring country”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian had previously said his counterparts from Oman and Iraq mediated in efforts to release the Iranian citizen.

Dardmand was purportedly arrested after posting on his Twitter account an image of slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani beside the Kaaba, the building at the centre of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca.

Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and architect of Iran’s regional security apparatus, was assassinated by the United States on January 3, 2020, in a drone strike in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.

Iranian local media said Dardmand on Wednesday met Abdul Fattah Nawab, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative in Hajj affairs, and Sadegh Hosseini, the head of the country’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, during which he said Saudi Arabian authorities tried to accuse him of “untrue charges”.

The pilgrim’s family earlier this week told state-affiliated media that they had not spoken to him or knew where he was imprisoned until shortly before his release was secured.

Dardmand’s arrest had created new tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, who cut diplomatic relations in 2016 after crowds attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran in reaction to the execution of a prominent Shia cleric by the Sunni-majority kingdom.

The two have held five rounds of direct talks mediated by Iraq since April 2021, and a sixth round has been in the works for months.

The talks have so far been held at the level of security officials. It remains unclear whether the next round will involve foreign ministers with the aim of eventually reopening embassies and re-establishing formal ties.

Source: Al Jazeera